Cook County Awarded Capstone Grant by MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to Sustain Justice System Solutions

Funding will Support Cook County’s Ongoing Community Safety and Racial Equity Initiatives 

COOK COUNTY, IL – Cook County is the recipient of a $625,000 capstone grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recognizing over eight years of progress towards safely reducing the local jail population while addressing inequities in the justice system. The grant marks a total of $7.3 million invested in Cook County by MacArthur as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $381.5 million national initiative to reduce the misuse and over-use of jail and eliminate racial inequity in local criminal justice systems. 

Since being selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) in 2015, Cook County leaders have remained committed to addressing the factors that contribute to over-incarceration. Through interagency collaboration, leveraging data and best practices and implementing thoughtful evidence-based strategies and reforms, Cook County has safely reduced the jail population by over 35 percent over the last 10 years. 

“Cook County is incredibly proud of the progress that has been made since we began our work under the Safety and Justice Challenge,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “This initiative has been an important catalyst that has helped us safely and sustainably reduce the population of our jail while centering collaboration and community engagement. As we embark on this final phase of the challenge, we remain committed to working across agencies and centering the needs and perspectives of residents and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by crime, violence and mass incarceration.”

Key strategies implemented in Cook County under the SJC include an automated court reminder system, a warrant strategy to recall outdated misdemeanor warrants and provide opportunities to resolve active warrants without facing arrest and the SEED (Supporting Education and Employment Development) diversion program for young people who engage in the sale of controlled substances as a primary source of income. Community engagement has also played a central role in Cook County’s SJC work resulting in an enhanced community engagement framework to facilitate information exchange and bring individuals impacted by the criminal justice system to the table as a voice in ongoing reform efforts. The collaborative planning structure developed by Cook County stakeholders to design and implement SJC strategies also contributed to Cook County’s successful implementation of pretrial reforms required by the Pretrial Fairness Act in 2023.

The SJC Capstone funding will support Cook County’s ability to sustain and continue to develop key strategies developed under the SJC. Areas of focus will include strengthening and solidifying interagency collaboration and expanding the County’s community engagement infrastructure. These efforts will include an archiving project designed to increase community access to information on pretrial reforms and strategies developed under the SJC.

“Through our participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge, we have gained an incredible amount of knowledge and momentum and have built a strong foundation for continued collaboration,” said Avik Das, Executive Director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council.  “The capstone grant will allow us to document and share our many successes and lessons learned with stakeholders and communities. As we look forward and work together toward future reform, it will be critical to leverage our shared knowledge and continue to engage and inform communities.”

More than eight years since its launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge has grown into a collaborative network of 80 jurisdictions across 34 states developing and modeling reforms to create more fair, just and equitable local justice systems across the country.

“Communities participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge have generated meaningful changes in their local justice systems,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Criminal Justice. “They were ambitious in setting their goals, and I am filled with a sense of hope when I look back on the Safety and Justice Challenge and the impact we have seen. We are proud of SJC grantee partners and their accomplishments, especially their resilience in response to the pandemic. This initiative was designed to be a foundational starting point for long-term criminal justice reform, and it is heartening to see its legacy unfolding in real time.”

More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge can be found at



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